School boards and county commissioners often have trouble getting along. One group, the county commissioners, holds the purse strings while the other group, the school board, is charged with the responsibility of education the people we most care about and for whom parents will battle the fiercest: our children.
School board members, in every state where they don’t have their own taxing power, bit their nails clean away during budget season hoping the county commissioners will give them some amount of money that’s at least close to what they asked for. Rarely does that happen and school board members are left to threaten dire consequences to our children if county commissioners don’t reconsider. Typically, the county commissioners relent some and school board members find less offensive ways to trim their budgets to the money that actually get.
In Wake County, there’s been all kinds of wrangling between school board members and county commissioners. Most of that wrangling, I’m sorry to say, was generated more by political partisanship than by real differences in opinion over how best to pay for education.
At one time the Republican-led county commission had to deal with a Democrat-led school board. Then, the school board flipped and Republicans controlled both bodies. The political fighting between the boards simmered down, though the school board’s Republican majority made a mess of its leadership role and in-fighting between Democrats and Republicans – and even among the Republican majority – caused its public support to fall like a rock. Democrats quickly won back a majority on that board and last year, Democrats swept the seats on the county commission.
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All that means the two sides are more likely to get along than we seen in the recent past.
Still, there are going to be some tough decisions ahead. At their love-in Monday in Raleigh, members of both boards had a git-together to talk about issues facing the schools. Out of that conversation came a general sense that a tax increase may be needed to more fully meet the school system’s needs. Now, whether you believe me or not, politicians of both stripes really dislike voting for a tax increase. It just doesn’t look good in a future campaign. And, trust me, someone will remember a tax increase from three or four years ago and make it know far and wide come election time.
Democrats who now lead the county commission will be the ones who ultimately have to decide whether to raise taxes. Despite my comments about disliking tax increases, it is interesting to note that the new county commissioners floated that idea almost right out of the boat. Keep in mind, they just took office in December.
The question for county commissioners to decide is just how much need there really is. And how much will the voting public stomach in the form of a tax increase. County commissioners and school board members generally doing a good job selling the need for school construction bonds to voters. If the Democrats who want to keep control of the county commission after the next election expect any success on Election Day, they will have to consider the answers to those questions carefully.
And, remember those parents? The ones who will fight so hard for their little ones? They are the folks county commissioners will really need to listen to as they make their decisions. If parents want better for their students and they are willing to pay for it, county commissioners could likely pass a tax increase and still pass muster at the ballot box. If those parents aren’t that excited about the extra cost they would incur to support schools, well then, commissioners best keep their hands down when it comes time to vote for a tax hike.